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Recipe for happiness

by Debbie Carini

One wall of a spare room in my parents’ home is lined with photo albums—they must number close to 30, maybe even more. My mom is starting to worry about what will happen to them.

 “Who’s going to take all of those?” she’s wondered about everything from her 1940’s childhood keepsake book with black-and-white pictures of her mom and dad to the three-ring binders with plastic sleeves that secure most of my childhood images.

When I was very little, my favorite family photos were contained in a wood-wrapped souvenir album from my parents’ honeymoon in the Pennsylvania Poconos. They both look impossibly young (just 20 and 21), and it always gave me pause to see how happy they were in those photos. It never occurred to me that they could be joyful without my presence or, for that matter, without the three additional children who would follow.

Of course, at various times in my adulthood, I’ve turned to my own honeymoon album to remind myself that I didn’t always walk around in elastic-waist “mom” pants (I’m even wearing a two-piece bathing suit in one photo!).

All of this led me to thinking about the ungainly detritus I’m hoping to foist upon my children, the most important of which is my “homemade” recipe books. These have been lovingly crafted through the years; since 1986 to be exact. That’s when I first ripped a recipe out of a magazine while sitting on the F train to Brooklyn and said to myself, “Hey, these are just directions. How hard can this be?”

Throughout the years, I’ve torn enough recipes from magazines to fill eight notebooks. Just last week, I realized that my “chicken” category was getting too big to be in the same binder with “beef” and “pork” and might warrant a book of its own.

We once had chickens as pets, but I had no compunction about serving up their distant cousins with minted yogurt sauce or marinated in blood orange juice or skewered for the barbeque with a maple and passionfruit glaze.

I’ve fashioned a whole system for the “recipe” books. I tear ideas from magazines, download them from cooking websites or copy them from cookbooks; they are then placed in a folder at the start of each section.

When I make a new dish and it receives the family’s seal of approval (usually meaning there’s nothing left over), the recipe is permanently ensconced in the book with Scotch tape.

Someone once asked me why I don’t scan all the recipes and store them in my computer. That’s probably a good idea, but I love the tactile sense of turning the pages and happening upon the little bloops of oil or tomato sauce that escaped the pot and plopped on the paper.

It’s hard to know what will become of the things we’ve treasured so in life. Will either of my children ever want to make the zucchini lasagna that started it all? (My husband swears it was this recipe that sealed the deal for him.) If they do, it’s listed under “other” in the same notebook as “fish” and “pasta.”

These recipes are my memories—of countless nights around the dinner table and school potlucks and latke parties and so much more. Someday I hope my children will chuckle, “Leave it to mom to leave a high-calorie legacy!”

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